This was actually written for November’s Mixology Monday but since I shifted my blog I am reproducing it here.
The topic of this week’s Mixology Monday is bitters. On a recent trip to Cambodia I happened to pick up a bottle of Suze. I had heard of Suze before but never tried it. From what I could make out of the label it seemed to be flavored with Gentian, an ingredient I’d only vaguely heard of before. The shop where I bought it was Phnom Penh’s largest French supermarket so I was fortunate enough to be able to ask a passing French woman what Gentian tasted like. ‘Aniseed’ she said. That sounded didn’t sound entirely right to me since I had a feeling Gentian was something different. However, given that aniseed is such a divisive flavor I figured her description meant Suze had some kind of interesting taste and so I grabbed a bottle.
The French woman clearly was not much of a Suze drinker, or perhaps she was as confused about aniseed as I was about gentian. When I finally got the bottle back to Shanghai (along with my other Cambodian finds - St. James rum and Marie Brizard Apry) I tasted no aniseed. I found the Suze rather like Campari, but less intense and without the orange taste. Apparently gentian is some kind of bitter flower. Suze is lighter bodied than Campari, less bitter, a little floral, and apparently has a wine base. I like it.
Suze tastes great with a splash of soda or tonic, but I wanted to find some Suze cocktails. I did a little research but came up with nothing. There were a few cocktail suggestions on the Suze website, but none of them grabbed me. The standard cocktail websites don’t mention it much.
So in honor of the approaching Mixology Monday I did a little experimentation myself. Because of Suze’s similarity to Campari I took the Negroni (a favorite drink of mine) as my starting point.
I tried mixing 1 part Suze, 1 part Gin and 1 part French Vermouth. This was drinkable but I felt it didn’t mesh together well. Perhaps it would work with the proportions changed around, but as it is I think the Gin dominates. I thought Suze would go nicely with some fruit, and that some sweetness and acidity might help put the Gin in the background, so I tried adding some orange juice. A version with equal parts of Suze, Gin, Vermouth and orange juice wasn’t too bad, but it lacked character.
Another day and another attempt and I came up with something I was happy with. This time I used Calvados instead of Gin, to produce a fruitier gentler drink that plays off Suze’s relatively mild bitterness. Calvados always reminds me of Autumn and so bringing out the Calvados bottle seemed fitting for the season as well. I think this would make a nice aperitif before an autumn meal involving cooked apples, maybe pork in apples, or chicken Normandy?
So the recipe. . .
1 oz Suze
1 oz Calvados
1 oz French Vermouth
Stir ingredients over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Squeeze a twist of lemon peel over the drink to extract the oils, rub the peel around the rim of the glass, and drop into the drink. A dash of orange bitters might also be nice instead of the lemon twist, though I haven’t tried this yet.
This drink isn’t as bold as the Negroni, but I think Negroni drinkers will appreciate it. Personally I’m very pleased with it. For an aperitif this drink is slightly mellow (something that could probably be changed by upping the ratio of Suze), but the mellowness seems part of the charm. While I would never want to abandon the wonderful Negroni I can see myself substituing the Autumn Frogman occasionally when I feel like something slightly more low key and heart-warming. If you simply happen to want to bring out the Suze this drink is just the thing.
Why is it called an Autumn Frogman? This drink has three French ingredients so the name was always going to refer to France, and who could refer to the French without having a joke at their expense?
I am from New Zealand and in our minds (or is it just in my mind?) the French will forever be associated with the bombing of a Greenpeace protest boat, the Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland Harbour. Yes, I know it happened in 1985, but hey, they were French! The Rainbow Warrior was sunk in winter, but I expect the French agents spent the Autumn ensconced in their wet suits and training for the mission. The drink also has Calvados in it, meaning Autumn must be worked in there somehow. So I present to the world, the Autumn Frogman!
Being the unforgiving person that I am I also came up with a Rainbow Warrior cocktail, but that will have to wait for another day.